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The New Informed Customer

Jason Baker | January 28, 2013

I recently took my mom and my daughter grocery shopping. My mom shopping for my parent’s house and my 15 year old daughter shopping for ours. My parents are part of the Kennedy generation where a President challenged his country to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade, and they did. They have borne witness to the technology age. My daughter is growing up in an era where putting a man on the moon is no longer an achievement and the entire space shuttle program has been shelved. She is growing up in the information age.

Is the advancement of information changing our world like technology has? Some argue its actually returning us to the past. If you look back and try to find something the next generation of consumers will have in common with my parents’ generation the first thing that came to my mind was food. No matter what era you’re from there was a food consumer. No matter what age you lived in there was a need to put food on the table. For my parents there have been some monumental changes. Milk was delivered to the house for one. Fast food or for that matter processed food was a rarity. A large percentage of the produce we ate came from our family garden and almost all of the meat we ate came either from a local butcher or straight from a local farm. The most telling statement of all was when they told me “if it was sold at the grocery store it was good enough to bring home”. Sure produce got squeezed to check for ripeness and sell by dates got checked but there was an undeniable trust that if it was on the shelf it was safe to consume.

My daughter doesn’t trust anything that comes out of the freezer in butcher wrap. If it isn’t wrapped in cellophane with a barcode sticker she won’t try it. She lives in an era where there are 14 different versions of milk. My daughter wants to eat organic, we can’t have anything with nuts in it for fear it makes it into the kid’s school lunch bags. Our latest buying trend is gluten free and I have no idea how or why gluten all of a sudden got such a bad name. Everywhere you go in the grocery store there is point of purchase signage promoting the story of each product. Cage free chickens, hormone free meats, chemical free produce, humanely raised, grass fed, no animal bi-products, sustainably caught, and locally grown are all industry buzz words.

The main difference between my parent’s generation and my daughter’s is that my parents trusted that food sold at stores was the same quality of that which they grew at home. My daughter does not. She wants more information about where the food has come from, how it was handled, and what it contains. She wants to know who is responsible for it and wants to understand the methods used to get it there. Those signs whether they’re price tags with cooking instructions, shelf talkers promoting why Brand A is superior to brand B, or barcode signs you scan with your phone that trace the item back to its origin are all designed to boost consumer confidence.

 Most trends are cyclical and our food buying is no different. My parents bought local because the days of the factory farms was still in its infancy and the food supply chain was built around getting product to market before it spoiled. They trusted their food chain because they knew where the products originated from. From farm to fork largely happened within a 50 mile radius of where they lived.  This current push to buy organic, buy hormone free, and buy local is a reaction to my daughter’s generation wanting that same trust in her food. If it’s produced in smaller quantities it must be better quality, if that took place near by its superior. Naturally grown and humanely raised gives us a confidence that the food brought home today is as good as that her grandparents bought. The information age has made the world smaller and the technology age made it more accessible. My parents were informed consumers and my kids want to be as well. My daughter argues it was easier for her grandparents in a much simpler world while my parents counter that the amount of information available today is more than it ever has been making it easy to be informed. For me in its most basic form information produces trust. One generation had it and one is trying to find it again.

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